Learn about Life in the 1920s

Jazz gained popularity in America and worldwide by the 1920s. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before in America. New exuberant dances were devised to take advantage of the upbeat tempo's of Jazz and Ragtime music.

Jazz, Ragtime and Broadway musicals became popular

Jazz had spread to dance halls and other venues, including speakeasies, all over America by the mid nineteen-twenties. Early jazz influences started to manifest themselves in the music used by marching bands and dance bands of the day, which was the main form of popular concert music in the early twentieth century.

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The advent of radio and the ready availability of phonograph records which were selling in the tens of millions in the late nineteen-twenties introduced jazz to people living in even the most remote locations. The new media provided an opportunity for many gifted upcoming jazz musicians to get noticed and make a name for themselves. These talented individuals were on their way to becoming major music stars and household names. Radio also had the effect of causing a revival of old songs, as well as popularizing new songs.

In its early years jazz was considered the devils music by diverse segments of the American public. Vigorous public debate raged between supporters and detracters. A typical exchange took place between music critic Ernest Newman who debunked Jazz in a 1927 magazine article, with a reply soon forthcoming from jazz-king Paul Whiteman who argued that jazz was a genuine musical force - and we know who history shows was correct in his views.


Public dance halls, clubs, and tea rooms opened in the cities. Strangely named black dances inspired by African style dance moves, like the shimmy, turkey trot, buzzard lope, chicken scratch, monkey glide, and the bunny hug were eventually adopted by the general public. The cake walk, developed by slaves as a send-up of their masters' formal dress balls, became the rage. White audiences saw these dances first in vaudeville shows, then performed by exhibition dancers in the clubs.

The popular dance music of the time was not jazz, but there were early forms taking shape in the evolving blues-ragtime experimental area that would soon turn into jazz. Popular Tin Pan Alley composers like Irving Berlin incorporated ragtime influence into their compositions, though they rarely used the specific musical techniques that were often used by jazz players like the rhythms and the blue notes. Few things did more to popularize the idea of hot music than Berlin's hit song of 1911,"Alexander's Ragtime Band," which became a craze as far from its origin as Austria. Although it wasn't a rag time song, the lyrics described a jazz band, right up to jazzing up popular songs, as in the line, "If you want to hear the Swanee River played in ragtime...."

Orchestral music was also very popular with new compositions like Ravel's "Bolero" receiving critical acclaim. Composers like Eugene Goossens also created popular music for Symphony Orchestras. It is because of this popular orchestral music that there is such a high demand for a TakeLessons violin teacher and learning musical instruments in general.


The 1920's were Broadway's prime years, with over 50 new musicals opening in just one season. Record numbers of people paid up to $3.50 for a seat at a musical. It was also a decade of incredible artistic developments in the musical theatre.

Even in the 1920's the lights of Broadway lit up the billboards at night in a huge splash of color that was immortalized in song. The dazzling lights were an attraction in their own right that compared with the shows in popularity.

The Broadway shows were produced by showmen who took musical theatre seriously and tried to provide quality entertainment while making a profit at the same time. This attitude kept the musical theatre booming right through the 1920s. Among the hundreds of popular musical comedies that debuted on Broadway in the early 1920s, two classic examples epitomise the Broadway musical of that era – Sally and No, No, Nanette .

The following table lists the "records which should be in every home" according to the Victor Records catalog of January 1922.

Title Artist/Orchestra Cat. No. Size List Price
Martha—Quartetto motturno Alda-Jacoby-Caruso-Journet 95210 12 $2.50
Same Old, Dear Old Place Braslau 74681 12 $1.75
Pagliacci—Vesti la giubba Italian Caruso 88061 12 $1.75
Elegie—Melodie (Massenet) French Caruso-Elman 89066 12 $2.00
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2—Part 1 (Liszt) Cortot 74670 12 $1.75
La Paloma Spanish de Gogorza 74379 12 $1.75
Don Carlos-O Carlo, ascolta Italian de Luca 64957 10 $1.25
Tales of Hoffmann—Barcarolle French Farrar-Scotti 87502 10 $1.50
La Capinera Italian Galli-Curci 64792 10 $1.25
Oh, That We Two Were Maying Gluck-Homer 87525 10 $1.50
Valse Bluette (Drigo) Heifetz 64758 10 $1.25
Liebesfreud (Old Vienna Waltz) Kreisler 74196 12 $1.75
Dear Old Pal of Mine McCormack 64785 10 $1.25
Lo, Here the Gentle Lark Melba 88073 12 $1.75
Walkure—Ride of the Valkyries Philadelphia Orchestra 74684 12 $1.75
Onward, Christian Soldiers Schumann-Heink 87298 10 $1.25
Damnation of Faust—Rakoczy Hungarian March Toscanini and La Scala Orchestra 74695 12 $1.75
Oh, Dry Those Tears Williams 74199 12 1.75


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"The Naughty 1920s Vol.1" CD or MP3
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"The Naughty 1920s Vol.2" CD or MP3
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"Best of Broadway"
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Website that lists 1920s Music on CD and DVD
Compilations of 1920s music including Jazz, Dance and Popular music of the era.

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Victor Records from 1922
Vocal Records from the Victor Records catalog of January 1922.